The Sign

5 min

“I’d have to think about housing, of course. And I’d have to sell my car. But the position would allow me more creative control, not to mention better opportunities for advancement. My current graphic design position in France is basically a dead end.” Esme sighed as her masseuse rubbed her tense shoulders, relaxing a bit further into the massage table, feeling silly for being such a chatterbox.

She had been venting her dilemma to her masseuse for the last hour and she couldn’t seem to bring herself to stop talking, even in the face of the woman’s silence, or perhaps because of it. She just wanted someone to listen, even if that person didn’t speak her language. Calling her sister with her “what ifs” while she was in her important business meetings today wasn’t an option. She couldn’t wait for Yulia to finish her work in the city so they could spend a few days together at The Retreat Palm Dubai. It had been a wonderful experience alone so far, full of massages and yoga, wellness workshops and delicious vegan meals, but she really wanted to see her sister face to face after flying all the way to Dubai.

“Delhi’s basically the fashion capital of India,” she continued as her masseuse moved magic hands to her lower back. “I’d be designing ads for a major fashion enterprise, working for a company owned by one of my old schoolmate’s parents. He’s actually the one who contacted me, remembering my passion for design from university and showing interest in my current work. He said he was impressed.” Esme blushed. “He’s also very good looking, and unmarried, so there’s that too.”

As her massage came to a close, she luxuriated in the scent of the “serenity” oil for just a few more moments. Maybe she could even make a few suggestions about the fashion lines themselves once she got her foot in the door. Sustainable clothing was a passion of hers, but was she really ready to move so far away from home? From her friends? Her family?

Esme sat up from the massage table and smiled at her masseuse, an older woman with long black hair streaked with white. “Thank you,” she said, “I really do feel better, and I don’t just mean my back.” Grabbing a towel, she stood to leave.

“You’re welcome,” the woman said, startling Esme. The woman smiled knowingly. “Do not mistake listening for lack of understanding. You have much on your mind, but The Retreat has ways of healing and revealing that may surprise you, just as I have, if you are but willing to look.” The woman nodded, humming to herself as she set the room to rights again and gently shooed a bewildered Esme out the door.

Esme still found herself bewildered by the woman’s words an hour later as she absently sipped on a detox juice blend from Chapters, glancing over the books in the Living Room. What did she mean about “looking” and “revealing?” Was she trying to give her some sort of clue? She should have stuck around to ask a few questions. What she would give for a sign pointing her in the right direction.

“Excuse me, miss. Are you looking for something?”

Esme broke from her thoughts and turned to identify the voice. A well-dressed hotel staff member, a young man with a friendly smile, stood politely behind her. Esme laughed awkwardly, “I’m not really looking for a book. I guess I’m just feeling a bit lost.”

“You are feeling lost?” the young man said. “Perhaps there is a book for you.” He reached out and plucked a thin book off the shelf. “‘All who wander are not lost,’ as they say.” He held out the book, a small collection of fables, to her. “‘The Oasis,’ I believe,” he said, nodding smartly. As Esme took the book, the man gave her a short bow and spun away, disappearing down a hall before Esme could formulate a word in reply.

She glanced over the book, shrugged at the new oddity, and went to finish her drink and read “The Oasis” on the terrace.

Esme put the book down not 20 minutes later, feeling quite odd herself. She identified very much with the main character. How had the man known?

In the story, a princess of a desert people felt there was more she was destined for than a life within her city of beautiful tents. She went into the sacred desert of her people with her father’s blessing and one of her mother’s handmaids to discover her fate, as was her family’s tradition. She traveled many days, and, in time, came to an oasis. There she discovered a glowing leaf in the water that only pointed one way. Taking it as a sign, the princess put it in a bowl of water and used it as her guide across the desert. The leaf led her to a great city of white marble, where she was welcomed. She fell in love with the city’s prince and married him, uniting their peoples, bringing great prosperity to all, and living happily ever after.

Esme tapped her fingers against her empty juice glass in thought as she looked out over the crystalline swimming pool below and beyond that to the calm azure sea stretching to the shining spires of Dubai itself, wishing she was as lucky as the girl in the story. She was already in the oasis, wasn’t she, this beautiful resort for wellness nestled up against the big city. But where was her sign? She suddenly felt antsy. Look, her masseuse had hinted; wander, the helpful man had said, so she got up and started to wander, started to look, but for what, she wasn’t sure.

Walking aimlessly about the hotel, Esme’s thoughts raced. What was she looking for? What decision was she supposed to make? Traipsing the airy halls, past pairs of other women, she wished she could call her sister.

By late afternoon Esme found herself wandering the stretch of beach outside the hotel. A gentle breeze ruffled her hair as she dragged her toes through the sand. On a whim, she rolled up the bottom of her pants and walked out into the surf. Calf deep, she watched tiny shells drift back and forth with the waves. It was soothing, and she let herself be lost in the rhythmic movement. What a contrast this place was to the bustle of the vibrant city just across the water.

Just as Esme was turning back toward the shore, still answerless, she noticed an unusual small green stone rolling along in the surf. Reaching into the warm waters, she drew it forth.

The wet stone glistened in her hand, and Esme noted it was a bit of turquoise, the same as the bead on her wellness bracelet, and slightly bigger than the pad of her thumb. On closer inspection, she saw it was a little carved elephant, an Indian elephant, no doubt, with such small ears and the tiny carved howdah carriage on its back. She smiled at the little elephant, rolling it around in her palm. It felt oddly warm, and as if it were made especially for her hand. A sudden zing of electricity raced down her back.

Was this the sign she had been asking for? The reveal that her masseuse had hinted at earlier? Was it all connected – the woman, the man, the book, and the little Indian elephant? She was set ablaze by all the possibilities – foremost of which, India! – but at the same time she felt as if a great relief was flooding through her body. She had to call her sister! She had to send an email to her dashing old schoolmate that yes! yes! she would take the job in Delhi.

Esme raced out of the surf and up the beach, clutching the turquoise elephant in her hand, overfull with joy as she ran back to her room to get her cell phone, flashing smiles at every guest and employee and door and window as she flew by. She felt like laughing. With every step she felt her tension and worry fade away, until she was as light as a feather. She had her answer, and her future looked as splendid and seamless as the desert sky.


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